Thursday, April 24, 2014

Baking Bread is Science and Cooking-A Guest Post

I am honored to feature a post written by my talented teaching assistant, Katherine Seeley. Katherine, a trained pastry chef and food writer/stylist, handles most of the planning and preparation for all of our classroom cooking experiences.  Even with young children she focuses on the various techniques associated with cooking.  She has her own food blog and was recently featured in Fine Cooking magazine.  Make sure to check out her blog, can personally vouch for most of the recipes there...delicious!!

Baking  bread is as much science as it is cooking. Our 4’s class has been hard at work exploring scientific principles. We’ve observed the reaction that happens when you combine baking soda and vinegar, and the children did an experiment where they observed and recorded what dissolved in water. Baking bread was a natural extension of this scientific inquiry. We chose a simple bread recipe that uses 5 ingredients found in most kitchens: flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water.

Our first step was to look at and talk about the recipe. What is a recipe? What ingredients are called for? What are the steps we will take? Then we identified the ingredients laid out on the table.

Next, we combined the yeast and warm water and stirred. Just like the experiment from the day before, the children observed that the yeast had dissolved or “disappeared” and they noticed, too, that the color of the water had changed and that it smelled differently. We talked about yeast as a living thing. It was our “magic ingredient.”  Next we fed it some food—sugar and flour—so it would have the “energy” to work.  Then we set it aside.

After 15 minutes, the children did not see a lot of visible changes. I pointed out the small bubbles forming and explained to the children that the yeast was doing its job making gas bubbles. Then we added more flour and the salt. It was hard work to mix the flour in. We used what I like to call “preschool power” to get that flour mixed in. The last ½ cup of flour was too difficult to mix in, so we turned the dough out onto the table.

I gave each child some of the dough and we kneaded in the remaining flour. When kneading, I tell the children to use the heels of their hands to push the dough out in front of them; then fold it in half, turn it and repeat. I chant, “push, fold, turn, push fold, turn.” The children and I really love this tactile experience. It is very calming. Afterwards, we noticed that the dough had become harder and smoother.

We put our kneaded dough into a greased bowl and turned it over. As a class, we looked closely at the dough and noted that it was about the size of a small plate. We touched it and noted that it was smooth and firm. Then, as scientists would, we made predictions about what might happen to the dough. The children had quite a range of ideas: it will get bigger, it will get bubbly, get small, get really big. Then we covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until class the next day. When I arrived the next morning, I took the dough out of the fridge so that it could come to room temperature.

With the children on day #2, we observed the dough again, giving it a gentle poke or two. Our cooks noticed the dough had gotten much bigger and softer. We continued with our recipe by punching it down, kneading it again and shaping it. We put the dough in a greased loaf pan and placed it in a warm spot in the kitchen to let it rise until doubled. Then we baked our bread. We could all smell that sweet, yeasty bread as it baked.

Before we tasted it, we observed one more time the changes that had taken place. We observed that the dough had turned hard and brown (and was a little miss-shaped due to the kids shaping it all on their own). When we sliced it, I pointed out the small holes in the bread. I explained that these were left when the yeast bubbles had popped. Finally, we all tasted warm bread with butter. Most of the children enjoyed the bread and many returned for seconds. Even our picky eaters took a nibble.  I’d say our bread making was a success both as a science lesson and a baking lesson.

Simple Bread
We made the bread in 2 small loaf pans but it would work just as well in 1 large loaf pan.
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
5 ½ cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1. In large bowl, add yeast to warm water. Stir. Add sugar and 2 cups of flour. Stir to combine. Let mixture sit for 10-15 minutes.
2. Stir in the salt and remaining flour. If mixing gets too difficult, turn dough onto table and knead in remaining flour.
3. Knead dough until smooth and firm. Place in greased bowl and turn to coat.
4. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. (If not making bread until the next day, place dough in the refrigerator. Be sure to let come to room temperature before continuing.)
5. Punch down the dough. Knead again. Shape and put in greased loaf pan.
6. Place dough in a warm spot and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
7. Bake at 400F until golden brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes.


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